Even if you don't, carnitas and pastor tacos deserve homemade tortillas.
We are not so much spoiled for choices as crushed by the never-ending waves of them. It never occurred to me as a child, for example, that I would one day find myself behind on watching TV. It is with the same Netflix-esque overwhelm that you sometimes open a Mexican menu, fold after fold, until the accordion of choices sends you seeking the refuge of your usual burrito.
So the one-page, laminated menu at Taqueria Rosales (312 W. Washington St., Eureka), which has lately opened up behind Liu's, is a relief. There are still choices to be made about fillings for the half dozen regular items and the specials. The carnitas taco is little but mighty, with a homemade corn tortilla — oh, the softness — cilantro and onion ($2). Sure, you could go with a packaged tortilla for $.50 less, but is that who you are? Is that how you'd treat a friend, much less the salty, pan-crisped shreds of pork your server's mother made for this taco? Who hurt you?
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
Tangy, spicy short rib chile verde.
Even plusher corn tortillas came wrapped in foil alongside the day's one and only special, short ribs stewed in a bright, tangy chile verde with a side of beans and rice ($10). Yes, short ribs — another little upgrade to treat yourself. The meat needs only a little coaxing to leave the bone and the seedy tomatillo and green chili sauce has just enough heat to give you some color.
There are two factions of polenta lovers: those who want to dip their spoons into a bowl of golden creaminess and those who want to angle a fork through the browned, cheesy edges. Isn't our nation divided enough?
The polenta lasagna ($17) at Brick and Fire (1630 F St.) is a unifying force. True, it's not an actual lasagna — two seared rectangles of Parmesan-rich polenta sandwich roasted peppers, eggplant and mushrooms — and the roasted tomato compote is more intense than a traditional sauce, but go with it. Because the polenta, topped with shavings of still more Parmesan and a smattering of balsamic, is so very soft, enough to win over the spoon lobby without alienating the crust constituency.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
You're going to need another reason not to share.
The kitchen staff is also uniting us on the chocolate cake vs. cheesecake front. The chocolate marscarpone cheesecake is a narrow wedge of the rich stuff ($7). It's milder than the straight cream cheese variety, with less of the distracting tang and all of the fluffiness. The balsamic glaze on the menu turns out to be but a streak, so if it puts you off, relax; if you want more, ask. There, a nation united, if only at lunch.
Entering the vermillion and yellow interior of Ethiopian International Café (210 Fourth St., Eureka) is like being wrapped in a flag at a soccer match. On a recent rainy afternoon, following a tip about the restaurant's outpost at the Arcata Farmers Market, we grabbed a random-couch-adjacent window table at the brick and mortar location and scanned the menu while Björk keened in the background.
The parking lot of Siam Orchid (427 V St., Eureka) is packed enough to simultaneously irritate and inspire hope, given the number of businesses that have moved in and out of the spot. Don't fret; there's more room in the bright dining room, where a photo of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit preside over twinkling tchotchkes.
Besieged as we are by the limitless platoons of lingerie model "angels" deployed on runways and in ad campaigns of late, the Angel Wings ($8) — chicken wings de-boned but for the very tips and stuffed with something like pork dumpling filling and glass noodles, then battered, rolled in panko and fried crisp — are a welcome irony. These are no two-bite bar wings. In fact, the pair that arrive with standard sweet chili sauce are thickly crusted and substantial enough to pass for lunch. They're also mild and crunchy, so dip away and be grateful your vocation allows you to eat wings rather than wear them.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
Thai surf and turf: snapper and ground pork.
You do not have to choose between sweating your way through a Thai meal or surrendering to the usual pad thai. Instead, you could order the Pla Tod-Na-Moo ($13). The filet of snapper is fried without batter, yielding a brown exterior and firm bite. Poured over top is ground pork stir-fried with sweet white onion, scallions, matchsticks of fresh ginger and a mix of white and stewed shiitake mushrooms. The sweetness of the shiitake suits the ginger and the aromatic sauce is brothy rather than greasy. Surf and turf at lunch — another life-choice win.
Finger food and toe tapping during Taste of Main Street in Eureka.
We hate to eat and run ... wait, that's not true. We love walking around Old Town grabbing a bite here and there. But last night we were on a mission to eat our way through all 26 stops in the Taste of Main Street pass book. We were focused and we were swift, working our way backward from the new chowder at Jack's Seafood to the popcorn tofu at the Co-op. Alas, despite short lines, we were waylayed by a little jazz band here, a little socializing there. By the time we hit Fifth Street at 7:57 p.m., the chairs were up on the tables at Surfside Burger Shack, Bless My Soul Cafe was down to a couple of canapés and the Co-op was a mirage in the distance. If you missed a ticket or two, here are the spots we hit and the things we ate.
There are some items on a menu that you move right past because damn, you could just throw that together at home. Where's the sous vide? The duck fat fryer? In what world are you going to pay someone to make you a bowl of black beans with avocado slices? That would be the world of Beachcomber (1602 Old Arcata Road, Bayside), where plastic animal toys signify your table's order and artfully tattooed couples nibble organic scones over the pass-along Chronicle. A reader emailed about the Beloved Bean Bowl ($9.75, $6.95 half order), with its black beans, avocado, poached egg, Jack cheese and salsa, all of it organic, cage-free, etc. The egg yolk is perfectly creamy and the beans are firm and smoky against the bright red onion, tart green chilies and scattering of mango. In short, it bears little resemblance to the cry for help that is your end-of-the-month canned bean bowl at home.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
Your mom does not make you tuna sandwiches this nice. Sorry.
So, too, the smoked tuna sandwich, recommended by the same reader who is clearly not bound by willful self-sufficiency. There is, after all, pleasure in having someone make a sandwich for you — take a moment to reminisce, then make a phone call and reconnect with your parents or that old guy from your favorite deli because that is love. Sure, some may look at an $11 tuna sandwich (no fries, no sides beyond a pinch of dressed greens) like one of those $400 Pentagon hammers. For one, the city block of a sandwich isn't the canned tuna and mayo you're smashing with a fork at home. It's salted and smoked tuna, rich and oily with black pepper. Mixed in are chopped pimento olives, walnuts and a little mustard on fresh, soft Rosemary focaccia. The kitchen was out of tomatoes when we ordered ours, so shredded carrots were subbed in to fine effect. If you're willing to take that kind of time and effort to spoil yourself at home, congratulations: You and Oprah are living your best lives. The rest of us should probably just order the smoked tuna salad sandwich.
Got the goods on good eats in Humboldt? Send the Hum Plate investigative team a tip at Jennifer@northcoastjournal.com.
I am told by a reliable Greek co-worker that everything is Greek. Everything. And yet when I swung into the office with a paper bag from Humboldt Soup Company (1019 Myrtle Ave., Eureka), there was some panic — from the Greek Panikos, incidentally — as to whether its gyro ($8.29) would be Greek enough.
The meat is key here. There are those of us who look at gyro meat or shawarma — the glistening, rotating column of the Mediterranean/Middle-East's answer to sausage — and recoil. Others among us dream of having a similar set-up beside the couch and shearing off strips of greasy goodness as John Stamos flickers on TV. This gyro is stuffed with beef and lamb shawarma that's soft and spicy, somewhere between sausage and meatball, but not overly salty. It's not exactly the same as the stuff they're slicing off the turning spit in the old country (or in Queens, for that matter) but it's savory and makes the cut.
The pita is legit — warm, soft and grilled — and unlike the usual foil-wrapped, dripping behemoth, the whole thing is pretty. Well, not anger-Hera-and-turn-you-into-the-snake-headed-Medusa pretty, but fancy enough to justify the price. The circles of pink pickled onion are tart and bright against the earthy meat and the tzatziki sauce is lightly garlicky and creamy with cubes of cucumber and tomato. Some fancy lettuce and a dark and nutty tahini spread that adds sweet smokiness are enough to make you forget about all that Greek austerity. Just don't get carried away and throw your plate. It's cardboard and that's not festive, it's littering.
It's not that you thought you were done with burgers, but you really did intend to take a break. Have a salad. OK, you were going to get the fried chicken sandwich, but then someone said the words "pork belly burger."
Let's be frank: If somebody puts a handful of roasted, glistening pork on top of a burger, it can't be bad. But the one at Plaza Grill (780 Seventh St. Arcata) is exceptional in its execution — it is everything done right ($13). The grassfed beef burger (treat yourself to the $2 upgrade) is exactly medium rare and has its own char-grilled meatiness to stand on its own. The cheddar cheese, aioli and oil-brushed and toasted ciabatta bun would be accompaniment enough. But the pork — caramelized at its edges, sweet and fatty, falling apart as you pick at a piece under the bun — is downright marvelous. Pork belly might be the new bacon, a richer and softer alternative to the usual smoky and salty stuff. Is the fried egg on top superfluous with all the umami already on the scene? No. Because it, too, is perfectly done, fried for a crisp, browned frill and a thick yolk that cascades down the side and onto the plate where you should swab at it with a French fry. If you were unsure about ciabatta before, you'll be grateful for its sturdiness and its ability to soak up all those meaty juices now. The lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle sit smug and safe on your plate, as there's no way to fit them onto this thing. No matter. You're back on salad tomorrow.
Buttermilk fried chicken goes fancy.
Unless you come back for that fried chicken sandwich. The buttermilk chicken sandwich (dinner only, $12), again on ciabatta, with a generous organic breast in a none-too-salty crust, is tender to the bite. The Sriracha aioli (which sounds like a gimmick but is a genuine pleasure that lights up all parts of your brain and which you should order on the side with your fries from now on) offers a bit of a kick, but the aromatic pickled onions steal the show with their crispiness, tang and hit of turmeric. All together it's a satisfying take on a pub and diner standard. And don't scoff at the iceberg lettuce — it's what you really wanted. You have the rest of your life for dark, leafy greens. Starting tomorrow.
How's your cold? Just kidding. No one cares. You missed getting sick when everyone else was coughing and sneezing, and now that your friends and co-workers are healed up, they have no sympathy for you. Fine. You can drown your sorrows in more canned soup and cough syrup or you can drag yourself to a corner table — away from other customers, Typhoid Mary — at Pho Lan Phuong (1709 Fifth St., Eureka) and order the hot and spicy beef noodle soup ($9.75).
Don't be frightened by the color of the chili oil or the red letters on the menu; it's not crazy hot. In fact, there's just enough heat in the lemongrass broth to help you fake the glow of health. Toss in the sprouts and squeeze the lime in there with a couple of jalapeno slices, and breathe in the scent of the cilantro. It's not terribly salty, so if you feel the need to paint the town red with that squeeze bottle of Sriracha, you go ahead. There are thick, comforting rice noodles, slices of beef shank and soft hunks of tendon. Hey, collagen-rich tendon is supposed to be good for your skin, and you need something to lord over those insufferable healthy people.
If the wall-to-wall Betty Boop décor (down to a tacked-up pair of socks) doesn't give it away, the sign exclaiming that pizza fries with meatballs and cheese are back should clue you in that Deb's Great American Hamburger Company (3340 Redwood Drive, Redway) is not about subtlety. Good thing, too.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
Cheeseburger cross-section. For science.
You will be grateful for the more is more aesthetic untethered to trends or changing theories about "nutrition" when the fast and focused young woman from the counter finds your little, red vinyl-covered table and puts down your hefty Western burger ($9.47). The patty itself is a beast — thick and browned under a swath of melted cheese — on a white bun with a crisp onion ring and bacon. And bacon. Languid, brick red slices, salty and just-chewy-enough, drape out over the sides to taunt those who order the simple cheeseburger, pleasingly old-fashioned as it is ($8.52). In fact, there's enough of the stuff that snaking a piece from my husband's burger did not end with me hitchhiking home from Redway.